I am a hero…

I have looked one of my biggest phobias in the face today and I wasn’t exactly happy about it.

A long time ago when I was around seven years old I went to see a dentist who, without warning, slapped a rubber mask on my face and I blacked out. I could hear sounds while I was under and I thought someone was cutting a rubber band close to my ear. To a young child that’s what a tooth being extracted under general anaesthic sounds like. Except it wasn’t one tooth it was twelve.

There began the long sequence of experiences that ended with me becoming dental phobic.

I had a tooth broken diagonally in an accident at school when we were playing rounders. It was probably the most painful experience of my life and I was left with a tooth that was unfilled and with a nerve exposed. It was agony.

When I was 15 I had the tooth extracted, again under a general anaesthetic, and had a denture fitted. Dentures are great these days but back then they were made less robustly and I broke it often.

I moved from my home town in 1986 and developed dental problems because if something is going to happen then it’s going to happen to me. I ended up with one side of my mouth filled with gold crown and it tuned out that that particular dentist was famous for it.

It seemed to me that all the decisions about my oral health bypassed me somehow. Dentists and dental nurses looked at x-rays then whispered in the corner of the room before subjecting me to treatment without telling me about it.

I moved to a different part of the city when I divorced (well almost divorced but that’s another story) and a Welsh dentist called Murphy decided on a line of treatment, again without consulting me.

I found myself in his chair having my top row of teeth drilled for so long I had to ask for a break to go to the loo. While I was there I looked in the mirror to see what he was doing that took so long and saw that what had been good teeth except for the missing one now resembled a mountain range.

I was having a bridge done he told me so I needed a set of crowns and that was that. Snide remarks about free treatment made me feel as though I’d been subject to a bizarre form of vivisection since I was seven years old.

All good until I was back in the part of the city I felt at home in and where I still live now. I went to the local dentist because I had toothache and ended up with root canal surgery in three teeth. That, not to put to fine a point on it, is fucking agony.

He called me a baby when I cried and I always come away from his surgery with a bruised face whatever he did. He was an ex-RAF dentist and I was one of the people who he considered had to be told what to do and do it without question.

Then my head blew up and I ended up with a dental phobia.

In around 10 years and many referalls to the local dental hospital I’ve had four teeth filled under sedation and the rest of my mouth has went to pieces. Again, I was told what had to be done but not why and not how.

On one occasion I asked if I could have treatment done and then have somewhere quiet to sit and I ended up on a hospital ward so that I could lie on a bed after the procedure. Instead of a dentist and a dental nurse in the room there was a professor, a consultant dentist, a theatre nurse, an anaestetist and a dental nurse. Oh and half a dozen students popped in for a look while it was all going on. It was a ridiculous amount of money to fill two teeth.

The dental hospital doesn’t take referalls for fillings under sedation anymore so I’ve had to take myself off to a regular dentist and throw myself at his mercy. Except that’s not quite what happened.

My first visit was to sit and talk about my fears, what would happen, when it would happen and if I was happy about it. I was okay with the extraction, I wasn’t happy about the fillings but I was being consulted about what was going to happen in my mouth. It felt extraordinary to be given this level of consultation 52 years after a butcher of a dentist thought it was okay to rip half my teeth out.

I had an infection so I had to have antibiotics leading up to the extraction. The tooth pulling went well and then I developed dry socket as the clots in the tooth bed got too big and wouldn’t hold on. Now I have a dissolvable sponge in my mouth and it’s working well.

I had the fillings today. We talked about what was going to happen. I put my iPod on and he began to drill. I asked him to stop. He did. This went on for a while and each time he was patient and considerate.

While he was doing the filling I was stressed as it was a deep filling and took quite a while. I shook badly (the adrenaline in the local anaesthetic doesn’t help), cried, shook some more and when it was over I cried some more.

I stood up to go and wobbled. You know you’re not in a good way when you see _that_ amount of concern on someone’s face. I wobbled into the waiting room to sit for a while and got the same look from the receptionist. My arms were white and I couldn’t stop crying and when I did all I could say was, “I’m phobic, I’m a fucking hero for doing this.”

I am still phobic, I have to have check-ups every three months and I’ve been advised to cut right back on the sugar. I’ll have to go cold turkey on that one but it will help my teeth and I will lose weight.

So here I am, a fucking hero.


I saw some tweets on Twitter recently about people who had been talking about mental health. One of them was a woman who I’d known briefly on Twitter and who blocked me after a series of bullying tweets. Some of these were directly at me and some were subtweets; aimed at me but not mentioning me.

People always ask how you know subtweets are about you and believe me you know. Most of us have written subtweets, some of us in a nasty way, and all of us have been on the other end of them.

This is how it began.

I had a mutual follow with a woman on Twitter for about six months or so when she announced that she was  moving to the town in which I live. I briefly tweeted them about  it with lots of exclamation marks and an exchange of tweets followed with overuse of exclamation marks. She promised to get in touch when she moved here. She didn’t.

I shrugged it off because she was in a new town and probably out of work and, in this area, good jobs in her field aren’t that easy to come by. Her tweets showed that she was living on the breadline in a part of town you wouldn’t expect to find a newcomer but that she was mixing with people who were supporting her in one way or another.

An opportunity arose (in a voluntary capacity) that would suit her so I let her know. She came to meet me and I introduced her to the setup and she seemed to fit in well with the established group.

Then the group began to disintegrate. There was unease and discomfort and within weeks the people who had started the group left and there were few people left. Strange things happened. I’m not saying she was a thief but things went missing and there was always a scapegoat mentioned.

She played to my sense of paranoia and made me feel as though I was going more than a little mad. As the group photographer I found myself being sidelined more and more. I left the group under a carefully orchestrated cloud.

I tweeted about it. I tweet a lot of rubbish but I tweet a lot of the big stuff that goes on in my life too. I tweeted about how I’d been abused by that person and then the abuse from the person I mentioned above began. Subtweets saying that if anyone hurt her friend they’d have to answer to her, tweets directly to me asking me why I thought I had the right to stand in judgement.

This is what this woman did so swell. She divided people, she gossiped about people and told lies about her life. You can guarantee that if she was gossiping to you about one person then she was gossiping about you about someone else. She took delight in telling me about one person whose relationship had broken down because he was impotent. She is a nasty piece of work.

To see her defender talking mental health in public last week was a shock but it also brought back some memories that hurt. It seemed that her mental health had to be protected and treated as something precious but mine was tossed aside and stood on by her. In my opinion, this person is not an adovacte for mental health. You cannot talk of equality if you act in a way that is destructive to someone else’s mental health.

If either of them recognise themselves from this blog post then shame on them. If they’re not happy about it then it’s tough. This is how my experience of them affected me, this is my opinion and I’m allowed to have one.

Bullying is wrong no matter why we do it and covert abuse of people with mental health problems is vile.

PIP, anxiety and a microwave

I don’t think that anyone who lives in the UK hasn’t heard of Disability Living Allowancce (DLA) and about the way that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is handling the converion of DLA to Personal Independent Payment (PIP) that is the benefit that is replacing it.

I’ve had a lifetime award of DLA because I’m not expected to get any better – there will be no improvement in my illness and so I was awarded the benefit without having to have an assessment either face to face or over the phone. Similarly with my recent conversion to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) it has been accepted that I’ll never work again and there was no assessment either face to face or on the telephone. I have to hasten to add that this is very unusual. Either the assessors in Bristol are extremely skilled and understanding or somebody up there likes me.

I got the letter this week that my DLA is changing to PIP and that the process has started.I didn’t expect to be as anxious as I became or that it would escalate the way that it did. The DLA is an important part of my income. It means that I can pay to have groceries deliverd or take taxis to places on the days that I can’t face buses or become too stressed to even get on one. My world has become smaller lately and it vital that I have DLA and its successor PIP in order to live in a wider world.

Getting to talk to my GP about a supporting letter was stressful to say the least. The receptionists at the practice I go to are like giant Rotweillers so fiercely do they protect the doctors from the general public. In the end I demanded that I speak to the doctor even though he was half way through his list. He apologised profusely for the lack of urgency that his staff had put on the messages to him and saw me within two hours.

We agreed a short term plan to reduce the ultra anxiety (sleeping pills and diazepam for a few days only) and extra rest. This will be easy to adhere to; I like sleep days.

One of the things that I’ve done to help myself cope with anxiety and mania is to buy a microwave oven. I last had one 20 years ago have used one since the late 80s when I worked in a pub kitchen in North Yorkshire (in those days they were at least £500 a pop).

It means that when I want to eat something I’ve frozen I can eat it that day instead of taking it out of the freezer and seeing if I still feel like eating it the next day. It almost means that I can make microwave chocolate cakes in a mug. I often want cake but just a slice, a large slice but still just a slice.

I think the lesson I’ve learned from the past few days is that bravado doesn’t stop anxiety and it doesn’t heal it or mask it. No matter how much of a wise person people think you are you’re allowed to be a real person and real people have crises and suffer illnesses. Wisdom doesn’t come from leading a life that you sail through it comes  through leading a hard life.

I’ve also learned that it’s okay to lean on friends. It’s not a weakness to love or be loved and it’s certainly not a weaknness to take comfort in that.



Last month, before Ogden died, I did a poll on Twitter to get suggestions about what I should blog about. I was hoping that people would pick food but of course it was the subject I wanted to blog least about was the one that was chosen.

Okay everyone has seen those newspaper reports about people who get taken to court and sometimes evicted because they’ve been playing the same song over and over again and sometimes very loud. That’s me except for the sound level.

Psychologically anticipating the next sound and knowing what the next word is elicits a feeling of comfort in the brain so I’m givng myself a hug. Lots of people do this and most people don’t force their neighbours  to listen to it.

It explains I suppose why I’m reluctant to listen to new music. I’m still listening to the Doobie Brothers with the same regularity I did when I was 14 which was *coughs* ago.

I’ve sang in choirs over the years most of them assoociated with sacred music. I’m still a fence sitter when it comes to God but, like a lot of other fence sitters and atheists, sacred music is fantastic to sing. When music is composed for God it is composed in a way that is different to composing it for man and that’s why it’s so wonderful to sing it.

I sing out loud at home all the time. When I’m not talking to the cats I’m singing something. I’m one of those people who can’t shut up even when I have nothing to say.

I used to sing to Ogden all the time and when I did he used to come and sit with his back to me and press himself up against my legs and I used to stroke him from his lovely silky head down over this rough lurcher type hair. I groomed him at times when I sang and that suited him well too.

This is what I used to sing to him. I’d say enjoy but my voice isn’t what it was.

Ogden Nash, a great dog

Three years ago, give a take a week or so, I saw a photo of a dog on a Facebook rescue page. The photo was shared to me by a friend and it was of a very sad looking dog who’d been in a Spanish pound for three years. THREE YEARS. Five months is considered a long time in a British pound and dogs are reasonably well looked after but three years in a Spanish pound where the dogs are treated like shit? No wonder he looked sad.

The charity I got him from was basically shit and there was a lot of problems before he finally arrived home. This sounds crazy but I missed him before he got here and I was desperate to see him. His Spanish name was Relampago which means streak of lightening and he was well named but I called him Ogden.

He arrived six inches taller than I’d been told and 10 kilos heavier and he was 5 kilos overweight. He hadn’t had a walk all the time he’s been in the pound and he had a scar on his back that had been caused by either acid, hot fat or hot metal. He had scars in his ears and he was nervous.

As soon as he arrived, after having the longest pee ever and a quick snack (two days by road from Spain = little food in case of travel sickness and few stops) I took him out for his first walk.

It was evening so the streets were quite quiet and we could walk around without him being too scared of things. He didn’t know where to look first – everything and anything drew his eye. He kept bumping into things because he couldn’t concentrate. There was one or two poo related accidents at home but that was because he didn’t know where to go.

I’d got him a bed, a cushion and a fleece to encourage him to find his own sleeping space and he refused to use them. He didn’t know that he was allowed to sleep on something soft and it took several weeks for him to sleep in the bed. He had three in the end!

He didn’t wag his tail for ages. He seemed to be convinced that I wasn’t going to be around long and I think he was scared about getting attached to me.

Right from the start people told me how handsome he was and were suprised that I’d just got him because they thought we looked so right together and we did. We complemented each other perfectly and we’re both a bit on the batty side so it was a match made in heaven.

He wasn’t just a good dog he was one of the great dogs. He had healing properties. That sounds all new agey and religious but he had an amazing way with people that I’d never seen in other dogs.

Once when we were on the way to the train station for a day out a guy stopped us and asked if he could smooth Ogden because he felt depressed and needed a lift. By the time we walked away to catch our train the guy was visibly better.

In Bromley, London and Bristol disable people approached us and asked to fuss over him and he really brightened them up. Everyone felt better when they met Ogden, he was truly one of the great dogs.

Last Wednesday morning we went out for our walk first thing. He’d had a few problems for a few days but on that morning he was obviously not well at all and I knew that  there was only one thing to do. I rang my vet and we arranged to have him put to sleep at lunchtime the same day.

I rang Rob who had looked after him when I went away on every Wednesday afternoon for since he got to England and told him and asked him to come with me. I rang my sister and she listened while my heart broke.

I took Ogden round to Rob’s house to pick him up to go to the vet and so that his mum and dad could say goodbye to him too.

He had lots ot treats that morning, probably about a weeks worth but the smile on his face as he ate them was wonderful.

The vet was kind. She laid a blanket on the floor and we had 15 minutes with him in private to say our goodbye and  then came back with a sedative that sent him off into a deep sleep and left us with him again. After we’d had time talking to him and hugging him she came back, gave him his injections and we held him and each others hands as she monitored his life signs until  he stopped breathiing and she could confirm that Ogden, who had been alive that morning and had been the centre of my work for 2 years and 8 months was no longer alive.

I miss coming home and hearing him bark as I open the gate. I miss shouting, “Have you been a good boy?” as I come through the door. I miss taking his collar off every afternoon and grooming him. I miss singing You Are My Sunshine to him and having him snuggle tightly in as I sing. I miss him nudging at me every morning to get out of bed so  he can start his day. I miss his dog smell and the fur he shed everywhere. I miss him the dog I longed to arrive and thought would  live forever.

He safe now, his illness was swift and the solution was equally as swift.

I’m being taken for coffee by so many people that I’ve lost count and I’m rearranging my time so life can change back to being about me and not about him.

His first four years of life were fucking awful but the two years and eight months he had with me were the way his life should have been lived. He had lovely beds, he had good food, he had antlers to chew on, he had me and his extended family to lovely him and he was free.

I cannot begin to describe how much I miss him or how much I will miss him but I’m so glad I had him with me. I will never forget him and I will never stop loving him.